Andrew Walton-Vaines, Digitisation Assistant for the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture project, writes:
In 1913, a local entrepreneur, geologist and photographer called Godfrey Bingley donated his entire collection of over 12,000 photographic negatives to the university. He worked as an engineer in the foundry industry but in 1884, at the age of 42, decided to retire and sold his business. Within 3 years, Bingley had embarked on a 29-year career as a photographer taking pictures nationally and internationally.
Bingley’s interests in geology, photography and travel meant he was a member of various gentrified clubs and societies including the British Geological Society and Leeds Photographic Society. During the 1890s, Bingley’s associations with leading figures such as eminent geologists and photographers; W. Jerome Harrison and Sir John Benjamin Stone, led to his involvement with the Yorkshire Survey as part of the burgeoning Record & Survey Movement.
Both Harrison and Sir Benjamin Stone wanted amateur photographers to survey and record quintessential aspects of British life and saw that buildings of antiquity or civic purpose would best reflect this. Churches, castles, homesteads, farms and outbuildings were the nation’s greatest strengths and should be recorded for posterity. Bingley, along with other notable photographers, became some of the country’s most prolific recorders of late Victorian and early Edwardian British life.
In July 1897, as part of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, Sir John Benjamin Stone announced the formation of the National Photographic Record Association (NPRA). Stone received government funding for the project and promised to lodge 5000 platinum prints with the British Museum on completion. By 1910, 5883 photographic prints from the NPRA survey were deposited with the British Museum and of these, Godfrey Bingley contributed a not inconsiderable, 500 prints.
Six years ago the NPRA prints were transferred to the Victoria & Albert museum and digitised. This means that not only can Godfrey Bingley’s work be seen online at University of Leeds Library Special Collections, but his platinum print work for the NPRA is available to view online at the Victoria & Albert museum as well.
When Stone announced the formation of the NPRA in July of 1897, Bingley was already working his way from Cambridge across Norfolk to Great Yarmouth taking survey pictures. The platinum prints he produced that month are included in the V&A museum collection and the original negatives are held within the Bingley collection here at Leeds University.
Ironically, very little is known about Godfrey Bingley’s life but his work sits within the walls of two of the country’s greatest institutions. Sadly, Godfrey Bingley’s eyesight had badly declined and by 1913, aged 71, Bingley took his last ever professional survey photographs.